Somehow, the idea of Sherlock Holmes living in Kabuchiko, Tokyo’s most famous red light district, did not come across to me as odd when I previewed the show in September. I suppose I was just game for a current anime based on the iconic character (especially from the 91 Days writer no less). Anime loves alluding to Sherlock Holmes but it’s rare to see one feature the detective himself. There’s also the fact that I watch anime and that naturally really colors what comes across to you as “weird”. And I don’t know about you but I’ve seen some pretty bizarre interpretations to begin with. Remember Sherlock Holmes in the 24th Century? I sure do. Whatever I had hoped for with Case File n221: Kabuchiko, I’m not sure I got it.
The most first sign of disconnect is how the characters are incorporated into the modern-day setting. Sherlock Holmes (Katusyuki Konishi) and John Watson (Yuichi Nakamura) live in Japan as Japanese men. Maybe they’re living abroad but if that is the case, there’s no mention of it in Episode 1. It’s too coincidental anyway when you consider that other familiar and very English names from the Sherlock Holmes canon make an appearance. Racebending is admittedly not as controversial in Japan as it is in America (a lot of Japanese fans were apparently okay with Scarlet Johannssen playing Motoko Kusanagi for example) but it’s nevertheless extremely distracting here. There’s also Jack the Ripper (Holmes’s most famous opponent in fanfiction) which is equally weird as it’s implied that this is the one and only Jack. He just so happens to not have started killing in the 1888…or existed back then for that matter. Go figure.
Far more detrimental though is the comedy. This anime is trying way too hard to be funny. Characters constantly banter at each other. Sherlock performs rakugo when he deduces for some reason. LGBTQ jokes are particularly abundant because I guess that’s the only way you can capitalize on the Kabuchiko setting. Mrs. Hudson (Junichi Suwabe) is a transgender woman who sings at her bar and flirts men including Watson. A gay man gets suspected of being Jack and alibis out by being gay (Jack’s victims were generally female prostitutes). Maybe someone will find all this funny. I personally didn’t it. There’s no real punchline to anything other than to be weird or to make fun of a group of people solely at their expense and nothing else (and I’m someone who thinks you can get away with offensive humor so long as it’s funny).
I’d talk about the mystery of the week but that honestly felt like an afterthought. It’s a very typical murder plot whose clues were only sprinkled in and whose culprit isn’t even hinted at until he appears at the very end of the episode. You’re given very little to guess on your own and the mystery isn’t even that interesting or complex so that you’re impressed when Sherlock breaks it down for you. You couldn’t even take it seriously as the gravity of Jack the Ripper on the loose and another woman possibly falling victim to him is severely held back by the show’s constant effort to make you laugh.
I understand the need to stand out. Sherlock Holmes is one of the most iconic characters of all time and in the case of the 2010s, popular reinvention has been dominated by Steven Moffat’s take on him. Really, I’d be all for something new, especially an anime. But this? This just doesn’t do it for me.
Thanks for reading!